In one of the most exciting starts to a Serie A season in years, Napoli sit at the top after 20 matches. With a record of 16-3-1 on 52 points, if the Winter Champions can keep up the pace, they could very well be the answer to the Old Lady Juventus’ reign of dominance in the league.
All of the league success aside, there was European and domestic cup hardship, causing some fans to wonder if they’ve got what it takes to maintain top spot. It’s also brought on opposing fans to heavily criticize Sarri and the ragazzi. But what do they know, right?
This leads us to the Sempre! team, seeing as how we’ve not missed a single Napoli moment all season, to lead you into this winter break with the SSC Napoli mid-season report card. In the first of this 4-part series, I’ll give out the grades and assess our goalkeeping and defense.
There’s no question that Pepe Reina is a dominant force in the locker room, and this season one could argue he’s been just as dominant between the pipes in Serie A with 9 of 10 clean sheets belonging to him (Luigi Sepe with the 10th). Reina’s quick distribution and sharp awareness is a major factor in our attack game as well. It’s obvious that Sarrismo doesn’t leave the Spanish international shot stopper out of the fold either, as Reina is used multiple times throughout the match as a passback option.
Where Reina would usually suffer is giving up the odd, somewhat lazy howler and goals coming in the later stages of the game. This can partly be attributed to being in a bit too cozy in the lead. This season, however, only one goal has been put passed Reina after the 85th minute.
Opposition have actually scored four opening goals with three of those coming in the first 15 minutes (two in the first 5). That being said, Napoli are 3-0-1 when scored on first. The loss coming to Juventus in a match that quite frankly stayed at 1-0 due in part to a fine performance from Reina.
Our defense has been the focal point of transfer markets past and that’s due to Napoli in recent years not being very well known for their defense. This year, however, Maurizio Sarri has the defense as tight as ever in Serie A.
An old caveat of our defense has been set pieces, and while having given up 8 total set piece goals in all competitions thus far, Napoli have only given up 2 goals from set pieces in Serie A. Compared to last seasons first half numbers of 5 in the league, that’s a great improvement.
There’s no question that Raul Albiol’s partner in central defense, Kalidou Koulibaly has been arguably the best in the league. While being very good at winning balls, K2 has grown into a build up play anchor, with an average of 84.1 passes a game and a 91% successful pass average. Oh, not to mention, the Senegalese defender also leads the league in goals by a defender with 4.
Another bright spot of the defense is that a lot of goals come from the ability of the fullbacks linking up with the attack, mostly due to the contribution of LB Faouzi Ghoulam. While the loss of Ghoulam to injury has taken a toll on the left side, Mario Rui has been a fairly decent replacement when it comes to his defensive ability. Sarri has also been forced to experiment with Elisad Hysaj on the left and 34 year old Cristian Maggio on the right, who’s been a pleasant surprise given his age.
Overall Grade: A-
In a continuation of the 2nd half of last year, Napoli’s back end have given up fewer than 20 goals. In the first half of the 16/17Serie A season, 21 goals were put past the defense. This season, after 20 matches, Napoli have only given up 13 goals.
Unfortunately, Reina’s 11 goals against in Champions League and Sepe’s 2 in Coppa Italia total 13 goals against in 10 matches outside of Serie A, and though the poor display in Europe prevents a perfect score, it’s not effected much, as we all know what the primary objective is.
By Raffa RispoFollow @raffanapoli83